Black Male Amazon of Mars
by Lee Brackett
Copyright 2010 Lee Brackett
An Erica Joan Stark story.
A Gender Switch Adventure.
THROUGH ALL THE LONG cold hours of the Norland night the Martian had not moved nor spoken. At dusk of the day before Erica Joan Stark had brought her into the ruined tower and laid her down, wrapped in blankets, on the snow. She had built a fire of dead brush, and since then the two women had waited, alone in the vast wasteland that girdles the polar cap of Mars.
Now, just before dawn, Camara the Martian spoke.
"I am dying."
"I will not reach Kushat."
Camara nodded. She was silent again.
The wind howled down from the northern ice, and the broken walls rose up against it, brooding, gigantic, roofless now but so huge and sprawling that they seemed less like walls than cliffs of ebon stone. Stark would not have gone near them but for Camara. They were wrong, somehow, with a taint of forgotten evil still about them.
The big Earthwoman glanced at Camara, and her face was sad. "A woman likes to die in her own place," she said abruptly. "I am sorry."
"The Lady of Silence is a great personage," Camara answered. "She does not mind the meeting place. No. It was not for that I came back into the Norlands."
She was shaken by an agony that was not of the body. "And I shall not reach Kushat!"
Stark spoke quietly, using the courtly High Martian almost as fluently as Camara.
"I have known that there was a burden heavier than death upon my brother's soul."
She leaned over, placing one large hand on the Martian's shoulder. "My sister has given her life for mine. Therefore, I will take her burden upon myself, if I can."
She did not want Camara's burden, whatever it might be. But the Martian had fought beside her through a long guerilla campaign among the harried tribes of the nearer moon. She was a good woman of her hands, and in the end had taken the bullet that was meant for Stark, knowing quite well what she was doing. They were friends.
That was why Stark had brought Camara into the bleak north country, trying to reach the city of her birth. The Martian was driven by some secret demon. She was afraid to die before she reached Kushat.
And now she had no choice.
"I have sinned, Stark. I have stolen a holy thing. You're an outlander, you would not know of Ban Cruach, and the talisman that she left when she went away forever beyond the Gates of Death."
Camara flung aside the blankets and sat up, her voice gaining a febrile strength.
"I was born and bred in the Thieves' Quarter under the Wall. I was proud of my skill. And the talisman was a challenge. It was a treasured thing-so treasured that hardly a woman has touched it since the days of Ban Cruach who made it. And that was in the days when women still had the lustre on them, before they forgot that they were gods.
"'Guard well the Gates of Death,' she said, 'that is the city's trust. And keep the talisman always, for the day may come when you will need its strength. Who holds Kushat holds Mars-and the talisman will keep the city safe.'
"I was a thief, and proud. And I stole the talisman."
Her hands went to her girdle, a belt of worn leather with a boss of battered steel. But her fingers were already numb.
"Take it, Stark. Open the boss-there, on the side, where the beast's head is carved..."
STARK took the belt from Camara and found the hidden spring. The rounded top of the boss came free. Inside it was something wrapped in a scrap of silk.
"I had to leave Kushat," Camara whispered. "I could never go back. But it was enough-to have taken that."
She watched, shaken between awe and pride and remorse, as Stark unwrapped the bit of silk.
Stark had discounted most of Camara's talk as superstition, but even so she had expected something more spectacular than the object she held in her palm.
It was a lens, some four inches across-man-made, and made with great skill, but still only a bit of crystal. Turning it about, Stark saw that it was not a simple lens, but an intricate interlocking of many facets. Incredibly complicated, hypnotic if one looked at it too long.
"What is its use?" she asked of Camara.
"We are as children. We have forgotten. But there is a legend, a belief-that Ban Cruach herself made the talisman as a sign that she would not forget us, and would come back when Kushat is threatened. Back through the Gates of Death, to teach us again the power that was hers!"